Mme Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai was born on the 1st of April 1940 in a village called Tetu (160 kilometers) from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. She was of Kikuyu ethnicity.
She was also among the 800 young Africans who studied in the United States through the Kennedy Airlift Scholarship program in the 1960s.
Wangari studied biological sciences at the Mt Saint Scholastic College, in Atchison Kansas. It was during her stay there where she drew inspiration from the Civil rights movement.
She then returned to Kenya to further her studies and then to Germany, she was the First woman from the East and Central Africa to obtain a doctoral degree; she went on to become the first female associate professor in the East and Central Africa.
In 1976 Wangari Maathai became the Chairlady of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy ath the University of Nairobi, where she also took on the post of associate professor the following year.
The Birth of the Green Belt Movement
Wangari introduced the idea of community based tree planting, which she developed into a broad-based grassroots organization – which she named the Green Belt Movement. Founded in 1977 under the auspices of the National Council of the Women of Kenya as a response to the energy and water needs the rural women from Kenya had.
Over the years, Wangari Maathai’s GBM has planted over 1 million trees in Kenya. The movement focuses on building climate resilience and to empower communities especially the women, to foster a democratic space that is sustainable for their livelihoods, they work from the grassroot level, national and then international.
How did she champion human rights?
She is renowned for her fight against land grabbing and for protecting water catchment areas and the green spaces in Kenya.
In 1989 whilst Kenya was still under the rule of one party led by the then President Daniel Arap Moi, Wangari led a campaign against the construction of a 60 storey Kenya Times Media trust business complex in Uhuru Park. A 13 hectare public recreational park adacent to the central business district of Nairobi.
A decade later she led a group of concerned citizens into a confrontation with thugs hired by corrupt developers who were trying to grab th forest of Karura – an urban forest gazetted in 1932 located in the capital. It was originally 1,041 hectares but due to the incursions of the developers’ 564 hectares as stated in a 2005 Kenyan report on illegal allocations.
Wangari was deep within the struggle for multi-party democracy in Kenya her home country. In 1992 the first multi-party elections took place and Mathaai leading a group of defiant mothers who had been on a hunger strike at the Uhuru park in Nairobi.
The women together with another group for political activists known as ‘Release Political Prisoner’s’ RPP demanded for the release of their sons who were confined in prison without undergoing a trial for accusations that were politically instigated. Th women stripped naked after the security officers dissolved the protest. The women remained in defiance for the period of 11 months until the government backed down and released the political prisoners. The section of Uhuru Park where this took place was later named Freedom corner to commemorate the incident.
After the introduction of the multi-party democracy, the GBM led by Maathai was a key instrument in educating communities on good governance, fostering peace and protecting the environment in which they lived in.
This heroine was awarded countless prices to name a few:
The Right Livelihood Award, The Goldman Environment Prize and the French Legion of Honour.
In 2004 she obtained the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace in Kenya and Africa.
In 2005 eleven heads of state in the Congo region appointed her the Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.
Wise Words From The Heroine
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and protect”
“The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem”
She later joined her ancestors after a battle with ovarian cancer in September on the 25th in the year 2011 aged 71.
Her legacy lives on and her story is one we shall continue to pass down to generations.
Mme Wangari Maaathai yiMbokodo!
In 2012, the African Union designated the 3rd of March as Wangari Maathai day the day is observed in conjunction with Africa Environmental Day.
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